P01E01: Sikhar Patranabis

For the first episode of TSA podcast series, we caught up with Sikhar Patranabis. He is the proud winner of The President of India Gold Medal (2014-2015), for having the highest CGPA among the graduating students. Despite having a PPO from Microsoft, and a monstrous CGPA that could have easily secured him admission into the most sought after colleges, he chose to stay back in Kharagpur and pursue his PhD. We spoke with him about this choice of his, the research environment in India, and more.



On his decision to stay back, Sikhar says that he felt he could do what he wanted to do here itself. Which becomes important because pursuing a PhD abroad brings with it, the challenge of a new working environment. And when compared to a known, comfortable environment which displayed a lot of promise, he was inclined to stay back. He went on to add that he’d been doing projects since his 2nd year and really enjoyed working under the professors and felt that there were a lot of challenges he could solve. “Research allows me to define my own problems and solve them in my own way, and I think that was what attracted me”. He lays emphasis on the relationship a PhD student shares with his/her guide. He adds that all students must have a one-to-one, open relationship with their advisor as they’ll always be there to help.


Sikhar did his 3rd year internship at Microsoft, which was essential as it exposed him to the workings of a corporate environment. As he’d done a lot of projects since his 2nd year, he also had sufficient exposure to the research environment. He says staying back was a personal preference as he liked the latter over the former. “I would probably like to go into the industry and make an impact when I have the sufficient knowledge/expertise to really contribute. For which my 4 years of UG, wonderful as it was, wasn’t sufficient”.


We also talked about the general air of disillusionment and disappointment towards research at IITKgp. Sikhar is of the opinion that an effective step towards solving this, would be to bridge the gap between the UG students’ community and the PG/RS students’ community. Good research work happens here, but it has failed to reach out to students in an exciting manner, the same manner placements and pay-packages do. In foreign universities, the undergrads have a sizeable contribution to the research output of their institute and if we could emulate that here on some level our output would increase in volumes.


While comparing the Indian research scene with that outside, he tells us that we lack an inbuilt structure and a sense of discipline, which the foreign universities have already built, over time. “As an undergrad you shouldn’t involve yourself only in academics”. Sikhar was the governor of the Bengali Dramatic Society. He notes that people don’t believe that they can work here.” It is of course expected that not all students are inclined towards research, at IITs. But the unfortunate fact is that there is a notion of ‘significant research work cannot be done here’ that gets perpetuated and results in little to no effort from the UG community. You can stay back here and do good research work, you don’t need to go to USA”. He adds that opportunities and facilities are available at Kharagpur, that are on par with the best in the world, if not better. And undergrads can work under PhD students on ongoing projects and use that as a litmus test for their affinity towards research.


Sikhar ends with this final thought, that essentializes the chat we have had thus far. “It’s perfectly okay if you say you’re not interested in research. But don’t think you cannot do research here, and need to go abroad to begin. I’m not sacrificing anything by staying back at Kharagpur and India. I’m staying back because the environment here is very conducive for me to work, and we are working on exciting problems. Also, I love Kgp.”


Listen to the full podcast here, and stay tuned for more!

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